Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald

Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932, American merchant and philanthropist, b. Springfield, Ill. He was president (1910-25), and later chairman of the board, of the mail-order house of Sears, Roebuck & Company. He established in 1917 the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which was largely used to establish rural schools for blacks. His many philanthropies also included Jewish relief in the Middle East and Russia, funds for YMCA and YWCA buildings in cities with large black populations, and grants to educational institutions.

See biography by M. R. Werner (1939).

Julius Rosenwald (August 12 1862January 6, 1932) was a U.S. clothier, manufacturer, business executive, and philanthropist. He is best known as a part-owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and for the Rosenwald Fund which donated millions to support the education of African Americans and other philanthropic causes in the first half of the 20th century. He was also the principal founder and backer for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to which he gave over five million dollars and served as the President (1927-1932).

Early life

Julius Rosenwald was born to clothier Samuel Rosenwald and his wife Augusta Hammerslough Rosenwald, a Jewish immigrant family from Germany. He was born and raised just a few blocks from the Abraham Lincoln residence in Springfield, Illinois during Lincoln's presidency of the United States.

By his sixteenth year, his parents apprenticed Rosenwald to his uncles in New York City to learn the clothing trades. While in New York he befriended Henry Goldman and Henry Morgenthau, Sr.. With his younger brother Morris, Rosenwald started a clothing manufacturing company but was ruined by a recession in 1885. Rosenwald had heard about other clothiers who had begun manufacturing clothing according to the standardized sizes that had been collected during the American Civil War. He decided to try the system but closer to the rural population that he anticipated would be his market. He and his brother moved to Chicago, Illinois.

Once in Chicago, Julius and Morris enlisted more help from a cousin, Julius Weil, and together they founded Rosenwald and Weil Clothiers.

In 1890, Rosenwald married Augusta Nusbaum, a daughter of a competing clothier. Together they had six children: Nina Rosenwald, Lessing Julius Rosenwald, William Rosenwald, Edith Goodkind Rosenwald Sulzberger Stern, Marion Rosenwald Stern Ascoli, and Adele Rosenwald Deutsch Levy. His son Lessing became a prominent businessman, following his father in the chairmanship of Sears, Roebuck & Company (1932-1939).

Sears, Roebuck & Company

In 1893, Richard Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck renamed their watch company to Sears, Roebuck & Company and began slowly to diversify. Rosenwald and Weil was a principal supplier of men's clothing for Sears, Roebuck. The volumes of unsold merchandise caused by the Panic of 1893 and his declining health led Roebuck to leave the company. He placed his interest in the company in the hands of Sears who, in turn, offered that half of the company to Aaron Nusbaum. Nusbaum, himself needing backers, asked his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenwald, for financing. In August 1895 Sears sold Roebuck's half of the company to Nusbaum and Rosenwald for seventy-five thousand dollars.

Rosenwald worked exceptionally well with Richard Sears. Rosenwald brought to the company a rational management philosophy and diversified product lines into dry goods, consumer durables, drugs, hardware, furniture, and nearly anything else a farm household could desire. From 1895 to 1907, under Rosenwald's leadership as Vice President and Treasurer, annual sales climbed from $750,000 to over $50 million. The prosperity of the company and their vision for greater expansion led Sears and Rosenwald to take the company public in 1906. Rosenwald turned to his old friend Henry Goldman, who was now a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, to handle the IPO. Richard Sears resigned the presidency in 1908 due to declining health and Rosenwald was named president in his place. Sears, Roebuck was laid low during the post-World War I recession and to bail out the company, Rosenwald pledged $21 million of his personal wealth. By 1922, Sears had regained financial stability and two years later, Rosenwald resigned the presidency to devote his time to his philanthropies. He was appointed Chairman of the Board of Sears, a post he held throughout his life.


After the 1906 financial reorganization of Sears, Rosenwald became friends with Goldman Sachs's other senior partner, Paul J. Sachs. Sachs often stayed with Rosenwald during his many trips to Chicago and the two would discuss America's social situation, agreeing that the plight of African Americans was the most serious in the US. Sachs introduced Rosenwald to two promoters of African American education, William H. Baldwin and Booker T. Washington. Rosenwald made common cause with Washington and was asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the Tuskegee Institute in 1912, a position he also held for the remainder of his life. He also endowed the Institute so that Washington could spend less time on the road seeking funding and devote more time towards management of the Institute.

Dr. Washington encouraged Rosenwald to address the poor state of African American education in the US. He responded by providing funds for the construction of six small schools in rural Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914, and overseen by Tuskegee. Built by and for African Americans, the project foreshadowed the role in education Julius Rosenwald would play. Inspired by the social progressivism of Jane Addams, Minnie Low, Grace Abbott, Paul J. Sachs, and Booker T. Washington and the Reform Judaism of Emil Hirsch and Julian Mack (many of whom were his personal friends as well), Rosenwald devoted his time, energy, and money towards philanthropy. In his words, written in 1911:

"The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer."

His Rosenwald Fund was established in 1917 for "the well-being of mankind." Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, The Rosenwald Fund was intended to use all of its funds for philanthropic purposes. In doing so, the fund was completely spent by 1948.

Over the course of his life, Rosenwald and his fund donated over 70 million dollars to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities and black institutions. The school building program was one of the largest programs administered by the Rosenwald Fund. It contributed more than four million dollars in matching funds to the construction of more than five thousand schools, shops, and teachers' homes in the South. These schools became informally known as "Rosenwald Schools."

Rosenwald was the patron of chess prodigy Samuel Reshevsky, and encouraged young Sammy to earn a university degree so as not to be completely dependent upon chess for his living. Reshevsky did so, earning his degree in accounting from the University of Chicago.

Rosenwald gave $1000 grants to the first 100 counties in the U.S. to hire County Extension Agents, helping the US Department of Agriculture launch a program that was very valuable to rural Americans. He was also the principal founder and backer for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, to which he gave over five million dollars and served as the President (1927-1932).

Rosenwald died at his home in the Ravinia section of Highland Park, Illinois, on January 6, 1932. Bronze busts honoring Rosenwald and seven other industry magnates stand between the Chicago River and the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, Illinois.



  • The North Star By Charles Wesley Burton, Ed.D. and Laura Dancy Burton; (2008) Julius Rosenwald's Impact Upon Black America
  • Ascoli, Peter M. Julius Rosenwald (2006), the major biography.
  • Embree, Edwin R. Investment in People? The Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund. 1949.
  • Werner, M. R. Julius Rosenwald: The Life of a Practical Humanitarian. 2nd ed. 1939.

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